Jews, all over the world, have been saying these words for 2,000 years. Millions of tears have been shed clinging to the hope that – one day – these words would come true. Incredibly, after all that has happened to our Nation, Jews are still begging Hashem for this prayer to come to fruition. In English, its just 4 words and every child knows it by heart. What is this special tefila? Simple: “Next Year in Jerusalem”. The problem, however, is that while we all say it, very few actually understand what it means.
Without a doubt, the overwhelming majority of Jews will tell you that it is a prayer for the Bet Ha’Mikdash. 2,000 years ago the focal point of our service to Hashem was destroyed and since then, we have been begging our King to restore Jerusalem to its splendor and glory. This sounds nice and we definitely want the Bet Ha’Mikdash rebuilt as soon as possible, but I have bad news for you; that’s not what “Next Year in Jerusalem” means at all.
I will write it again so that this point is very clear. Yes, we want the holy Temple and without it, our Torah is incomplete. The Kohen Gadol, sacrifices, incense, Menorah, singing Levites plus all the laws of “Tuma and Tahara” (impurity and purity) are difficult for us to comprehend until we live them on a daily basis. Hundreds of pages in the Talmud – which discuss the intricate details of the korbanot, the gifts brought to the Bet Ha’Mikdash and concepts such as Teruma and Ma’aser – are merely intellectual exercises until our reality changes. We pray 3 times each day for Hashem to rebuild the Bet Ha’Mikdash and allow us to take these concepts and turn them into actions. However, while all that is true, I remain with my original point that the words “L’Shana ha’ba’ah b’Yerushalayim” – Next Year in Jerusalem – means something else.
So what does it mean? The answer is simple because the prayer is simple. For 2,000 years Jews have begged Hashem for one thing; to bring us back to Jerusalem. .. to kiss the holy stones and roll in its dust. Jews in Turkey, Yemen, Poland and Russia had one dream… to walk the streets of Jerusalem. That’s it. Yes, they also wanted the Bet Ha’Mikdash and the Sanhedrin and the return of the Davidic dynasty, but that would be steps 2, 3 and 4. The beautiful Jews who held on to the Torah despite the persecutions, crusades, blood libels, and pogroms did so because they hoped for something far simpler; that one day they would see the sun rise in Jerusalem. Even as these Yidden were thrown out of Spain, gassed in Auschwitz or beaten in the streets of Syria they held on to the dream that the day would come when they would breathe the air of Jerusalem. Those 4 words kept them going and – no matter what – they never let the haters and anti-Semites take it from them. The words “Next Year in Jerusalem” were their prized possession…
An excellent example of this came last week in a speech by Miriam Peretz, the mother of 2 IDF soldiers killed in battle. Despite the unimaginable pain of losing 2 sons, Uriel in 1998 in a battle in Lebanon and Eliraz in 2010 while fighting Hamas in Gaza, this incredible woman travels the world speaking and giving strength to others. Her positive message about Israel and Jewish unity is something we must all listen to and apply to our lives. Instead of focusing on the negative and the pain, Miriam Peretz motivates and inspires. Last week, the State of Israel awarded her with the Israel Prize and she delivered a powerful speech during the festivities on Yom Ha’atzmaut. She spoke about her childhood in Morocco (in the early 1960’s), and how her father spoke about Jerusalem. Allow me to quote a few sentences from her amazing speech.
“Each night my father would tell me about a city he did not know, nor that he even saw in pictures, whose description passed from father to son. The city was Jerusalem. It had trees that dripped with honey and milk… Each time he pronounced the word ‘Yerushalayim’, my father would press 2 fingers to his lips and murmur its name with a sense of sanctity, while kissing each letter.”
She then said a line that gave me chills up and down my spine. “In 1964, my father’s dream was fulfilled and we came to Jerusalem; a transit camp in Beersheba where we lived until 1969.”
Let me summarize those few lines. Miriam Peretz’s father, never saw Jerusalem – not even in pictures!! Although he was living in Casablanca, Morocco he prayed every day; “Next Year in Jerusalem” and when he said that last word, he pressed his fingers against his mouth and kissed them! To top it all off, not only did the word “Jerusalem” not mean the Bet Ha’Mikdash (as I stated above)… it didn’t even mean Jerusalem!!! That word meant “Israel” – he was praying, dreaming, hoping and yearning that the day would come where he would leave Morocco and simply come to Israel.
That is exactly my point. For 2,000 years Jews begged Hashem, “Please, our Father – bring us back to your holy city. Yes, Father, even though that city does not have the Bet Ha’Mikdash – at this time – and even if that city is called Netanya or Ashdod, help us leave the lands of the goyim. We realize that things in the land are not perfect but bring us there and we will work the land to make it better! We will plant trees, build homes and return the greatness of Torah to Zion. Please, answer our prayer: Next year in Jerusalem!!!”
Dearest friends; only one question remains. What would our grandfathers and grandmothers have done if “Next Year in Jerusalem” could have meant simply purchasing an airline ticket? They cried while we play. They dreamt about Jerusalem while we dream about the Bahamas. They saved every penny to (hopefully) send one family member to Israel while we waste thousands on useless gadgets and golf outings.
The time has come for us to bring the dream to life! Say what you mean and mean what you say. “Next Year in Jerusalem”… for every Jew in the world! Its 4 simple words that can – and will – change Jewish history forever.